Roger Stone: Kushner is leaking intel to Scarborough

Gideon Resnick writes: During a segment on InfoWars today, Roger Stone, who was previously an adviser during the early months of President Trump’s campaign, claimed to host Alex Jones that Trump’s own son-in-law Jared Kushner was leaking information to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough.

“Jared Kushner, perhaps the one presidential aide who cannot be fired, is now in regular text message communications with Joe Scarborough,” Stone claimed. “Many of the anti-Steve Bannon stories that you see, the themes that you see on Morning Joe, are being dictated by Kushner. And while Mr. Kushner’s plate is very full with Middle Eastern peace and the China visit, and so on, in this case I think he is disserving the president.” [Continue reading…]

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Freeing up the rich to exploit the poor – that’s what Trump and Brexit are about

George Monbiot writes: Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today, the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.

When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought, for instance, without harming others. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.

When corporations free themselves from trade unions, they curtail the freedoms of their workers. When the very rich free themselves from tax, other people suffer through failing public services. When financiers are free to design exotic financial instruments, the rest of us pay for the crises they cause.

Above all, billionaires and the organisations they run demand freedom from something they call “red tape”. What they mean by red tape is public protection. An article in the Telegraph last week was headlined “Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels”. Yes, we are choking, but not on red tape. We are choking because the government flouts European rules on air quality. The resulting air pollution frees thousands of souls from their bodies.

Ripping down such public protections means freedom for billionaires and corporations from the constraints of democracy. This is what Brexit – and Donald Trump – are all about. The freedom we were promised is the freedom of the very rich to exploit us. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS says U.S. ‘being run by an idiot’

Reuters reports: Islamic State said on Tuesday the United States was drowning and “being run by an idiot”.

In the first official remarks by the group referring to President Donald Trump since he took office, spokesman Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer said:

“America you have drowned and there is no savior, and you have become prey for the soldiers of the caliphate in every part of the earth, you are bankrupt and the signs of your demise are evident to every eye.”

“… There is no more evidence than the fact that you are being run by an idiot who does not know what Syria or Iraq or Islam is,” he said in a recording released on Tuesday on messaging network Telegram. [Continue reading…]

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Trump travel ban ‘simplistic and wrongheaded’, says former CIA chief

The Guardian reports: The former CIA director John Brennan has described Donald Trump’s travel ban on visitors from Muslim countries as “simplistic and misguided”, predicting it would be counterproductive if implemented.

Brennan, who was director of central intelligence from March 2013 until the last day of the Obama administration on 20 January this year, was highly critical of a range of Trump policies and actions in an interview with the BBC Newsnight programme aired on Monday night.

He said the administration’s use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” served to legitimise terrorists in their own eyes, and warned that the president’s disparagement of US intelligence agencies would hurt morale and recruitment. [Continue reading…]

 

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Trump associates didn’t have to be under surveillance to be unmasked

The current Trump/White House narrative designed to distract and deflect attention away from the massive array of ties Trump and his associates have with Russia, is to cast themselves as victims of politicized intelligence who were illegitimately spied on and thence illegitimately “unmasked.”

One of the key deceptions at the heart of this narrative is the notion that Trump and/or his associates were parties to the intercepted conversations from which their names were subsequently unmasked.

As Business Insider notes:

[F]ormer NSA Director Michael Hayden, who also served as the principal deputy director of national intelligence and the director of the CIA, cautioned against “automatically assuming that the US person was party to the conversation” that may have prompted an unmasking.

“My life experience suggests that the overwhelming proportion of these cases of incidental collection is not information to or from an American, but information about an American,” Hayden said. “In this case, it is very likely in most instances two foreigners talking about the Trump transition.”

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Trump can pull money from his businesses whenever he wants — without ever telling us

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Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests

The Washington Post reports: Congress and U.S. intelligence agencies are scrutinizing connections between Russia and the Trump campaign as they investigate evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Here are members of Team Trump who are known to have Russian connections and the story lines that have made those ties relevant. [Click here to view extensive graphical analysis]

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Former Trump adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian spy

BuzzFeed reports: A former campaign adviser for Donald Trump met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013.

The adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.

A court filing by the US government contains a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone identified as “Male-1.” BuzzFeed News has confirmed that “Male-1” is Page.

The revelation of Page’s connection to Russian intelligence — which occurred more than three years before his association with Trump — is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump’s orbit. It comes as federal investigators probe whether Trump’s campaign-era associates — including Page — had any inappropriate contact with Russian officials or intelligence operatives during the court of the election. Page has volunteered to help Senate investigators in their inquiry. [Continue reading…]

 

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Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel

The Washington Post reports: The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump’s looking for a Mideast winner, he’s made a bad bet on Sisi

Bel Trew reports: “Are you Christian?” were the only words the masked men asked Misaq, 58, an Egyptian hospital worker, as they poked their machine guns through the car windows.

Moments before, the Coptic father of four and his Muslim colleague had passed through an Egyptian military check point, and then watched as an Egyptian army vehicle passed them.

They were on their daily drive home to Arish city in North Sinai from the government hospital where they both work. Driving the short distance between two official checkpoints, it hadn’t occurred to them to be on the lookout for fighters from the so-called Islamic State. But now they were looking at the barrels of ISIS guns.

Misaaq, a devout Copt, refused to lie to the jihadists, his friend later told the family. The ISIS fighters, perhaps taken aback by the man’s bravery, demanded to see his ID card, which confirmed his religion. They even checked the cross tattoo on his wrist, which most Coptic Christians have.

“Convert, infidel, and we will spare your life,” they told him, as they dragged him out of the vehicle and forced him to his knees. But again he refused. So they shot him 14 times and left the corpse in the desert.

“The terrorists have no schedule. They appear out of nowhere. They hunt us down,” Misaq’s impoverished widow, Magda, 52, said as she described the nightmare Christians are forced to live in Arish. It is the largest city in North Sinai, a region that has been a battleground for four years between the Egyptian army and insurgents.

Magda’s is one of the nearly 300 Christian families who fled their hometown in February, after ISIS murdered seven Copts in less than three weeks. The majority, like Magda, fled to Ismailia, a Suez Canal city where they are now in partial hiding in ramshackle flats.

“This ISIS checkpoint appeared between two military checkpoints,” she told me. “The soldiers must have heard the shots. They have towers, they could have easily seen what was going on. My husband was driving behind a military vehicle but it never turned back. No one came to help him.”

Magda, echoing other families who spoke to The Daily Beast, said the security forces were worried about their own safety. “They are targets, too. They are often too scared to do anything.”

February’s mass exodus of Christians from the troubled peninsula, which followed the ISIS-claimed bombing of a major Cairo cathedral in December, are stark reminders of how the government is not winning its heavily-touted war against terrorism. [Continue reading…]

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Trump says U.S. will act alone on North Korea if China fails to help

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump has issued China with an ultimatum that if it fails to put pressure on North Korea to disable its nuclear programme, then the US is prepared to take action against Pyongyang on its own.

“Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” the president said in an interview with the Financial Times that has alarmed experts on the region.

Asked how he would tackle North Korea, Trump said: “I’m not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East.”

Trump will host the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, on Thursday and Friday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where the two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea, China’s ambitions in the South China Sea and trade. There is speculation that North Korea could conduct another nuclear missile test to coincide with the talks.[Continue reading…]

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Trump has become Fox News’ No 1 assignment editor

Lloyd Grove writes: The jury is still out on whether Team Trump colluded with Russian operatives during last year’s presidential campaign—the subject of an extensive FBI investigation.

But the evidence is overwhelming that the Trump White House is colluding every day with the Fox News Channel, with Donald Trump himself acting as the right-leaning cable network’s cheerleader-in-chief and No.1 assignment editor.

The latest example is Fox News’s relentless promotion–abetted by the president’s Twitter feed and Monday’s installment of Fox & Friends—of a story that Los Angeles correspondent Adam Housely first told on Friday’s edition of Outnumbered, a noon weekday program in which four women on a couch and “one lucky guy” seated in the middle flirt and banter about the news of the day.

Appearing remotely from L.A., Housely reported that unnamed U.S. intelligence agencies, acting on orders from an unnamed Obama intelligence official, had improperly “unmasked” the identities of Team Trump members and associates who were caught up last year in surveillance operations; Housely also claimed that top Obama administration officials used the information for political gain.

The assertion, so far uncorroborated by other news outlets with the exception of Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, offered aid and comfort to Trump, who has been under intense media and congressional scrutiny for his alleged Russian connections ever since he tweeted on March 4 that President Obama—a “Bad (or sick) guy”—had ordered the “wiretapping” of Trump Tower. [Continue reading…]

Lake’s piece is noteworthy for this:

In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy [my emphasis].

The following month, Trump’s new national security adviser H.R. McMaster removed Cohen-Watnick from his position as NSC senior intelligence director only to get overruled by Trump. And then we learned about Cohen-Watnick’s family ties to the Russian government.

Michael Flynn’s request for immunity probably has much less to do with his desire to tell his story than his fear that his protege will be granted immunity first at which point the White House implodes as Trump aides rush for the exits.

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Donald Trump’s strange relationship with Jared Kushner (updated)

Hardly a day goes by without Jared Kushner being anointed with a new role in the Trump administration. Is Kushner, Trump’s Kissinger? A man of such genius that he inspires in this president so much confidence that whenever Trump asks himself, who’s the most gifted individual in whose hands I can place this awesome challenge? the answer is always Kushner?


My hunch — nothing more than that — is that the reason Kushner keeps on getting new roles has nothing to do with his abilities and everything to do with Trump’s relationship with his own daughter Ivanka.

In spite of Trump’s repeated indications of being sexually attracted to Ivanka, the man who has lived his whole life with the expectation that he can grab whatever he wants, was in this instance forced to rein in his own desires. (I am willing to assume he has successfully done that primarily because I see no indications that Ivanka feels the need to maintain a safe distance from her father.)

At the same time, given Trump’s grandiosity, it’s hard to believe that he truly believes that Kushner or any other man would really be good enough for his daughter.

So perhaps the reason Trump keeps on giving Kushner new roles is because he wants Kushner to fail.

Does Kushner look like a man brimming with such immeasurable confidence that he can conquer anything?

Not really.

More like a timid young man who’s afraid of saying “no” to his tyrannical father-in-law.

Footnote (update): However Trump views Kushner, it is, let’s say strange, that the White House would tell the world (and that includes ISIS) that the Senior Advisor to the President and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are on board an aircraft that’s shortly going to land in Iraq.

The Washington Post reports:

Colin Kahl, a senior administration official under former president Barack Obama, called the Trump administration’s move to release information about the trip ahead of Dunford and Kushner arriving in Iraq very unusual.

“Given how dangerous Iraq is, and the likelihood that senior U.S. officials could be targeted, the Obama administration always waited to announce any high-level visit until the official was on the ground,” Kahl said. “Political imperatives may incline some to advertise these trips — but in life-and-death situations, safety of our officials comes first.”

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The government Gorsuch wants to undo

Emily Bazelon and Eric Posner write: At recent Senate hearings to fill the Supreme Court’s open seat, Judge Neil Gorsuch came across as a thoroughly bland and nonthreatening nominee. The idea was to give as little ammunition as possible to opponents when his nomination comes up this week for a vote, one that Senate Democrats may try to upend with a filibuster.

But the reality is that Judge Gorsuch embraces a judicial philosophy that would do nothing less than undermine the structure of modern government — including the rules that keep our water clean, regulate the financial markets and protect workers and consumers. In strongly opposing the administrative state, Judge Gorsuch is in the company of incendiary figures like the White House adviser Steve Bannon, who has called for its “deconstruction.” The Republican-dominated House, too, has passed a bill designed to severely curtail the power of federal agencies.

Businesses have always complained that government regulations increase their costs, and no doubt some regulations are ill-conceived. But a small group of conservative intellectuals have gone much further to argue that the rules that safeguard our welfare and the orderly functioning of the market have been fashioned in a way that’s not constitutionally legitimate. This once-fringe cause of the right asserts, as Judge Gorsuch put it in a speech last year, that the administrative state “poses a grave threat to our values of personal liberty.”

The 80 years of law that are at stake began with the New Deal. President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that the Great Depression was caused in part by ruinous competition among companies. In 1933, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which allowed the president to approve “fair competition” standards for different trades and industries. The next year, Roosevelt approved a code for the poultry industry, which, among other things, set a minimum wage and maximum hours for workers, and hygiene requirements for slaughterhouses. Such basic workplace protections and constraints on the free market are now taken for granted. [Continue reading…]

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Arab Winter

Borzou Daragahi reports: To the Egyptian state, Khaled al-Balshy is public enemy number one. In the three years since a military coup toppled the country’s elected government, he has been charged with trying to overthrow the government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, rioting, damaging public property, harboring fugitives from the law, blocking public roads, illegally protesting in the streets, and insulting the police. He has been described in the pro-government press as a communist, a paid foreign agent, an anarchist, and a member of the outlawed Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Balshy is a journalist, and until recently served as deputy head of the country’s press syndicate. A bookish, disheveled 45-year-old, in rectangular eyeglasses, Balshy is the editor of an independent news website called al-Bedayaiah, which means “beginning.” His wife, Nafisa el-Sabbagh, is also a journalist. The pair divide their time time between newsrooms, the press syndicate headquarters, and caring for their two kids, 16-year-old son Ali, and 9-year-old daughter Bassil. When Balshy’s not at home, at work, or out talking politics with friends, he spends a lot of time at various courthouses, both for his own pending cases and to keep tabs and offer support for the scores of other journalists run being run through the grinding, degrading machinery of Egypt’s judiciary.

He laughed at the charges against him. He said he’s never done anything violent in his life. In fact, during demonstrations last year against the Sisi government’s attempted transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, he was regarded as the voice of reason. “I was the one who advised people to go home, and I tried to communicate with the security officials,” he said. “I wanted them to stop beating people.”

Eventually, Balshy grew used to living in what he describes as a “traditional dictatorship,” where the court appearances and public smears became humdrum. He even dared grow hopeful at signs of dissatisfaction, including widespread opposition to the Red Sea islands deal, as well as sporadic shows of spine by the judiciary and small spontaneous demonstrations against police brutality or the price of bread.

As the military-dominated government under Sisi widened its crackdown on media, civil society, and dissidents, democracy activists often turned to the international community for support. This frequently came in the form of subtle warnings by the US and others that continued military aid was contingent on the country’s democratic progress or simply statements standing up for those targeted in the crackdown — in some cases lending them just enough backing to be released from jail or allow their work to continue.

But then Donald Trump was elected president, and everything appeared to get worse. [Continue reading…]

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Judge to Trump: No protection for speech inciting violence

The Associated Press reports: A federal judge has rejected President Donald Trump’s free speech defense against a lawsuit accusing him of inciting violence against protesters at a campaign rally.

Trump’s lawyers sought to dismiss the lawsuit by three protesters who say they were roughed up by his supporters at a March 1, 2016 rally in Louisville, Kentucky. They argued that Trump didn’t intend for his supporters to use force.

Two women and a man say they were shoved and punched by audience members at Trump’s command. Much of it was captured on video and widely broadcast during the campaign, showing Trump pointing at the protesters and repeating “get them out.”

Judge David J. Hale in Louisville ruled Friday that the suit against Trump, his campaign and three of his supporters can proceed. Hale found ample facts supporting allegations that the protesters’ injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s actions, and noted that the Supreme Court has ruled out constitutional protections for speech that incites violence.

“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ‘em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” the judge wrote. “It was an order, an instruction, a command.” [Continue reading…]

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